Young-adult books have gotten a bad rap, if you ask us. Yes, sometimes YA fiction lives up to all of its negative stereotypes with angsty teenagers trying to figure out what makes them special, dejected kids trying to find their place in the world, and star-crossed, mildly masochistic lovers (ahem, Bella and Edward) fighting all odds to be with each other.
But sometimes YA books transcend the stigma of their genre and speak to themes and issues that any adult can relate to. Because, if we're honest, feelings of loneliness and helplessness, confusion and doubt of one's worth, and the magic of falling in love don't end after one has reached full-blown adulthood, whatever that is.
We're sure there are countless books that fit the bill, including obvious ones like the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series that we are skipping because everyone should have read those already, but here are 10 young-adult books that every grownup should read, in no particular order.
10. The Fault In Our Stars By John Green
Yes, we are starting out with what could be seen as a downer, but we will not apologize. We could talk about how Hazel, the protagonist, was based on a girl that author John Green knew, or how moving it is to watch young love, born from a chance meeting at a cancer support group, flourish despite grim circumstances, or how the highly-anticipated movie adaptation comes out next month. We could mention all of those reasons, but it is Green's ability to tell the story of a young girl fighting cancer using incredible candor, wit, and sincerity that made us absolutely fall in love with the story of Hazel and Augustus. There is no sugar-coating in Hazel's world, and the reader doesn't get that privilege either, which is completely fine with us.
9. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock By Matthew Quick
Leonard Peacock has decided that for his 18th birthday he wants to shoot his popular jock of a classmate, Asher Beal, and then himself. But first, he has to say some goodbyes. We know, this sounds super sad, but Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook, has created a protagonist so genuine, caring, and troubled that you can't help but wish that you could somehow insert yourself into the story and save Leonard. It's more than the heart-wrenching, page-turning story that got us with this one, though. Quick highlights the crucially important role an adult can have in a young person's life, if they are simply willing to pay attention and reach out, as well as the tragic consequences that can come if they don't.
8. The Giver By Lois Lowry
Most of us were assigned The Giver in school at some point, but as adults we urge you to revisit this classic. Lowry's tale of a utopian/dystopian society, in which usefulness is paramount and the masses live blissfully unaware of the past and pain, reminds us to remember and learn from the past, look at the world through a critical eye, and appreciate both pain and joy in life. This too is being turned into a movie, set to be released in August. From the looks of the trailer, they've taken quite a few liberties. You better read up soon so you can talk about just how much better the book really is.
7. Ender's Game By Orson Scott Card
This YA sci-fi classic requires the more pragmatic among us to dive in with an open mind. After all, the story begins with Ender Wiggins being chosen at the age of six to begin training for the military and ends when he is nine and leading an army. Just accept that and go with it. You'll be glad you did because what lies past those seemingly impossible circumstances is a gripping story of what happens when the simplicity and passion of a child is used as a weapon of war. This book's riddled with aliens, action, and moral and philosophical lessons. Get ready to be unable to put it down once you open it.
6. House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer
Prepare to question what it means to be human. Matteo Alacran is a clone of El Patron, a 142-year-old powerful Mexican drug lord. As Matt grows older, he comes to understand both his place in the world as a storehouse of spare parts for El Patron and the cruelty of dehumanization. However, he also discovers the goodness in humanity through his caretaker, Celia, and his friend, Maria. If you've ever wondered what it means to be an individual or pondered the importance of free will, read this book. If you've never wondered or pondered those things, read this book and get ready to.
5. Artemis Fowl By Eoin Colfer
For those who are seriously in touch with their inner child, we recommend Artemis Fowl. We'll be the first to admit that the Colfer's writing in this fantasy is somewhat simplistic. However, we are able to look past that due to the thrilling, engaging, and imaginative plot. Artemis Fowl, a 12-year-old genius millionaire criminal mastermind, steals a fairy to hold for ransom, resulting in the unwanted and diligent attention of the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance (LEPrecon), the underground fairy police. The story also features a troll, a centaur, and a gassy dwarf. Have we piqued your interest yet? Well, in case we haven't, there's a coded message running throughout the story along the bottom of the pages just begging to be cracked. Get at it.
4. It's Kind of a Funny Story By Ned Vizzini
As Tanya Lee Stone from The New York Times said in her review, "This is an important book..." One word that crops up often when discussing It's Kind of a Funny Story is "edgy." Teens having sex and smoking weed? Uninhibited cursing throughout? Yeah, for a YA book, that is pretty edgy. But it's also honest. Vizzini used his own experiences as the inspiration for the story of Craig Gilner, who checks himself into a psych ward after contemplating suicide and learns that people are not solely the diseases that ail them. Tragically, Vizzini did commit suicide last year, making Craig's story and the issues of depression and taking one's own life all the more real and pressing.
3. Speak By Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino called the cops on the end-of-summer party before her freshman year of high school. She can't tell anyone why, though. Her old friends stop talking to her and people she's never met before hate her. She retreats into herself until she barely speaks at all. Though it is set in high school, Anderson's story of a girl who learns to find her voice again can apply to anyone who has felt isolated or withdrawn from the world. Some of the most interesting reactions to this book come from young men, but we'll let you investigate those yourself after you've finished reading.
2. Eleanor & Park By Rainbow Rowell
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
A dual point of view can often cause a book to feel redundant and confusing. However, hearing both Eleanor and Park's POVs simply makes this book. Eleanor is the new kid at school who struggles to find a seat on the bus. Park is the one who eventually makes room for her. In case you hadn't guessed it, this is a love story. But this love story is one for both romantics (the Parks of the world) and realists (the Eleanors of the world). This is also a story about love saving someone from an ugly situation. You will fall in love with these characters and you will fall in love with the love they have for each other. Prepare to feel all of the feels and be transported back to your first, young, or improbable love.
1. Abarat Clive Barker
We're going to be completely honest with you. This book is on this list because it's basically a beautiful picture book. There is a story too, of course, but it is far outshone by the fantastical art Clive Barker created. Candy Quackenbush, from the ho-hum Chickentown, gets washed away to the world of Abarat, an archipelago of 24 islands that each represent one hour of the day. Candy visits all of the islands and meets and then overcomes whatever challenge the island poses. This becomes pretty repetitive. Shocker. However, just take one look at the oil paintings Barker uses to accompany his story and you can see why it earned a spot among our favorites. They're imaginative, bold, dark, and clever. Just flip the book upside down and look at the title on the cover to see what we're talking about.